The luxury market for mechanical wristwatches: Why?
The Guardian has an interesting article by Simon Garfield on the bizarre but flourishing market for luxury analogue watches. From the article, the question he addresses:
. . . And therein lies the mystery of the modern timepiece. These days, no one requires a Swiss watch to tell the time – or a watch from any country. The time displayed on our mobile phones and other digital devices will always be more accurate than the time displayed on even the most skilfully engineered mechanical watch, yet the industry has a visual presence in our lives like few others. The storefronts of the world’s big-money boulevards glow with the lustre of Rolex and Omega; newspapers and magazines appear to be kept in business largely by watch adverts; airports would be empty shells without them. The export value of the Swiss watch trade fell by 3.3% last year, due primarily to a downfall in demand from the east Asia. But it is up 62.9% compared with six years ago. In 2015 the world bought 28.1m Swiss watches valued at 21.5 billion Swiss francs.
We live in uncertain economic times, but watch prices at Baselworld show no signs of making a cut-price concession to the unstable yen or rouble, or even the recent competition from the Apple Watch. Indeed, the opposite seems to be true: the higher the asking price, the greater the appeal, for cheapness may suggest a reduction in quality.
So the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Day-Date 40 in platinum (“The watch par excellence of influential people”) is on sale for £41,700, while the platinum Patek Philippe Split-Seconds Chronograph with the alligator strap (“For men who take accuracy seriously”) is £162,970. For some collectors, this would be considered entry-level: the most complicated limited-edition watches sell for £1m or more. These watches have a waiting list, as the world only contains so many squinting master craftsmen who can make them, and even they haven’t found a way to extend the day beyond 24 hours.
But why do we continue to buy these over-engineered and redundant machines? Why do so many people pay so much for an item whose principal function may be bought for so little? And how does the watch industry not only survive in the digital age, but survive well enough to erect a 16,000-litre salt‑water shrine to its continued mastery of an outmoded art? Far beyond the telling of time, watches tell us something about ourselves. And so the answers to these questions lie within our propensity for extreme fantasy, our consumption of dazzling marketing, our unbridled and shameless capacity for ostentation, and our renewed reverence for craftsmanship in a digital world.
And perhaps there is something else ticking away at us – . . .
Read the whole thing. I actually got very interested in mechanical wristwatches and in fact bought a couple (not terribly expensive, but still). But then I looked around more and backed away quickly. I now wear a Casio.